The film, titled Sierra Leone, centers on celebrated playwright Charlie Haffner and his model of community theater. The doc will follow his plans to stage a production intended to foster a sense of national identity within the West African country, still reeling from the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Though the project is not backed by the BBC, Fraser – editor of the pubcaster’s ‘Storyville’ doc strand – has signed on to exec produce independently of the Beeb, and describes Sierra Leone as “fantastically bold.”
“That’s what animates me – the desire to see really earth-shaking stuff that changes my view about things, and I’m sure this will do,” he tells realscreen.
The project begins production next month, and Insight this week launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the remaining 25% of its budget. About US$550,000 has so far been raised through a number of private investors.
Insight was founded in 1991 by former BBC radio and TV reporter Ron McCullagh. The London-based producer specializes in current affairs docs with global impact, with credits including the Emmy- and BAFTA-winning account of Sierra Leone’s civil war, Cry Freetown (2000); as well as Africa’s Last Taboo (2011), confronting homosexuality in the continent; and the series Africa Investigates for Al Jazeera English.
The company’s latest undertaking will follow Haffner as he tries to stage an ambitious play in a country that no longer has a dedicated theater venue. The doc will find the artist trying to navigate questions regarding how to depict his country, his people and their history, and ultimately cast the play with Sierra Leonean protagonists – some of whom may portray themselves.
“The country has been through so much displacement, so much war, that there isn’t as strong a sense of national identity as there could be, and he [wants to achieve this] by creating a unifying work of art or a piece of culture that everyone can relate to,” says Jonathan Ossoff, MD of Insight.
He adds that Sierra Leone presents a rare opportunity for the prodco – internationally recognized for its coverage of Africa – to tell a story that inspires, and doesn’t focus directly on conflict and strife.
“The idea is that the story we’re telling is about a Sierra Leonean telling a story. The narrative is an African one, the message is an African one,” says Ossoff. “If you ask someone on the street, and you say, ‘When I say Sierra Leone, what do you think of?’ they’re going to picture war, Ebola and poverty. And we’re going to show them a side of the country they didn’t even know existed.”
Executive producers on the doc include Fraser, Ossoff, McCullagh and Katy Barksdale. Long-time Insight presenter Sorious Samura is producing and Clive Patterson (The Battle for Africa, Living with Ebola) is directing. Daniel Platzman of rock band Imagine Dragons will score the doc.
Sierra Leone is slated for completion in June 2017.
- Check out an exclusive preview of the film below: